Fitness column: Don't be one of 10 million; work out your back

Oct. 10, 2010 at 5:10 a.m.

Every year, almost 10 million Americans go to the doctor with back pain.

Many of these problems are directly related to many people's sedentary lifestyle. Sitting for hours every day leads to muscles that are weak and joints that become stiff and inflexible.

In this weakened state, routine tasks can cause strain and injury. Exercise will increase muscular strength and improve flexibility helping to protect your lower back.

Start with a 10-minute brisk walk to warm up. Then try these back stretching and strengthening exercises:

Opposite arm and leg extension - start on your hands and knees. Keep your head neutral. Slowly lift your right arm straight out in front of you. At the same time lift and straighten your left leg. Make sure your abdominal muscles are pulled in tight. Hold for a count of three and return to all fours. Next lift your left arm and right leg. Repeat five times on each side.

Cat and cow - start on your hands and knees. Drop your head looking at your belly, button and arch your back (like a cat) pushing through your shoulders and pulling your belly button in. Hold for a count of three. Now lift your head looking at the ceiling and let your belly drop toward the floor sagging your back (like a cow) feeling a slight stretch through the abdominal area. Hold for a count of three. Repeat twice more.

Bridging - start lying on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Raise your buns off the floor and squeeze your buns and your abdominals as you hold this position for five counts. Make sure you do not lift so high that your weight is on your neck. You should be supported by your shoulders and upper back. Repeat for a total of five reps.

Reverse curls - lie flat on your back with your arms overhead. Knees are bent and feet are a few inches off the floor. Tighten your abdominals and pull your knees slowly towards your chest. Hold for a count of three and slowly lower back to the starting position. Repeat four more times.

Single-leg extension - start lying on your stomach with your arms folded and your chin resting on your arms. Pull your abdominals in as you slowly lift your right leg off the floor. Make sure both hip bones stay in contact with the floor. Hold for a count of five, lower and switch legs. Repeat 10 times.

Shoulder lift - still lying on your stomach with your arms beside your thighs, palms up, forehead resting on the floor. Slowly lift your head and shoulders off the floor and hold for three counts. Lower and repeat ten times.

Final stretch - roll over on your back, pulling knees to chest, holding onto your knees with your hands. Gently rock sided to side massaging your lower back.

Always check with your doctor before beginning a new exercise routine.

Melissa Bagnall is certified personal trainer with a bachelor's degree from Texas A&M University in physical education. You may email her at



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